New Mobile Food Truck Serves San Diego’s Homeless Downtown
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Aired 7/30/12 on KPBS News.
Homeless people have limited access to the CalFresh Program, formally known as Food Stamps, but now a mobile food truck operator is signing them up.
The popularity of mobile food trucks in San Diego has taken another turn. A new one-of-a-kind service offering hot healthy meals for under $4 recently took to the streets downtown.
From the inside it looks like any other mobile eatery on wheels, but take a closer look and you'll notice every fresh entrée costs $3.50 or less. From breakfast burritos to fajita wraps, it's also all cooked to order. Even the beverages are inexpensive: $1 for vitaminwater®, $0.50 for juice and a $0.25 for bottled water.
Renix Johnson takes the food orders while also helping customers sign up for the CalFresh card, formerly known as Food Stamps.
"Print and sign your name for me, right here," Johnson told one customer. Johnson is wrapping up his summer internship with the non-profit group "Dreams for Change."
"I just feel like a better person just by doing this, by giving back to the people, talking to other people that have been through struggles that I've never witnessed. I honestly don't know how other people do it," Johnson said.
That's what makes the Fresh Truck so unusual. Its primary customers are homeless people who have the lowest participation rate or access to the CalFresh Program.
"You don't have to have an address, the only thing you have to have is a picture ID and it does not have to be a California ID, it could be their shelter card to obtain those benefits," said Teresa Smith. She's a graduate student at the University of San Diego and won this year's grand prize in the Social Innovation Challenge, $10,000 to help launch the food truck.
"It met all the criteria: it's innovative, we're the only one in the country, it's for a social cause and we're working with homeless individuals and it's long-term self-sustainable."
Kathryn Vargas used to be homeless and now works on the food truck. "We can provide this service for everybody. You don't have to be homeless, you don't have to have an EBT card, but you can get fresh hot food, some fruit, salad and it's all good for you. That's our target. We want to make it affordable, fresh, and for everyone," said Vargas. The Fresh Truck has been in business for six weeks and Smith said they're about to break even on their investment.
"Being a non-profit, our goal is to bring everything back into the community and so part of the truck is a workforce development. So as we bring on and start making that profit, our goal is to hire the homeless individuals to really operate the truck and to take it over, so it becomes their business," Smith said.
It cost about $30,000 to purchase the truck and supplies. They received extra funds from several community groups. The Fresh Truck operates weekdays in downtown San Diego.